Friday, September 22, 2006


Johnnie and Joe, Over the Mountain, Across the Sea.

Zell Sanders was among the handful of women in the 1950s who ran a record label, and to my knowledge was the only black woman to do so. She began as a songwriter and a manager, but learned quickly enough how much of a rip-off the pop music business could be; she decided the only way she could get a buck was to start her own label--J&S Records, which she ran out of her South Bronx home.

Sanders released singles ranging from pure gospel (The Pilgrim Pioneers, The Gospel Wonders) to pure confectionary pop (the Pre-Teens, a group of singing kids under the age of 10). But her best shot came when her neighbor, songwriter Rex Garvin, introduced her to singer Joe Rivers, a handsome 20-year old from Charleston. Garvin and Sanders hit upon the idea of forming a 'sweethearts' group, in the mold of Shirley and Lee, but were stumped as to where to find a singing partner for Rivers...

"My mom said 'I think it needs a little something'," recalled Sanders' daughter, Johnnie Louise Richardson, in an interview with Aaron Fuchs. "It was right in the middle of a rehearsal too. She looked around the room and said, 'I tell you what--Johnnie, you get over here and sing with Joe.' I said, 'Oh no, do I have to do that?' So she gave me the look that distinguishes between mother and record manufacturer."

Sanders' instincts hadn't failed her: the new duo began having regional hits, starting with their first single "I Was So Lonely", but it was their fourth release, Warner's "Over the Mountain", that made them nationally. Chess ultimately purchased the rights to it, and the single hit #8 on the charts.

Find on Golden Age of American Rock & Roll Vol. 5.

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